Opinion: US gymnast Jade Carey made the right choice about her spot at the Tokyo Olympics
Whether she wins any medals at the Tokyo Olympics or not, Jade Carey will always know she did the right thing.
That’s more than international and U.S. gymnastics officials can say.
Carey confirmed Tuesday night that she plans to compete as an individual in Tokyo, ensuring the United States can send six women to the Olympics next month. Because her individual spot is nominative, meaning it is hers and hers alone, another American would have been left behind had Carey been part of the four-person U.S. team.
“I’m really excited to be heading to St. Louis next week,” Carey wrote in an Instagram post. “I have every intention to accept the individual spot that I worked very hard to earn by competing in the Apparatus World Cup Series spanning from 2018-2020 when officially offered to me.
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“My focus right now is preparing to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and being able to contribute to Team USA in any way possible,” she added. “Thank you for your continued support.”
Let this be a lesson to the International Gymnastics Federation, which insisted on going ahead with a foolish idea made even more ill-advised because of the COVID-19 pandemic. USA Gymnastics, too, which is so petrified of drawing any more criticism that it refused to take a definitive stance on Carey’s options, leaving athletes that the federation claims to care so much about to twist in the wind.
Jade Carey smiles after completing her floor exercise routine during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on June 4, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)
After toying with the idea of going back on the bargain she made three years ago, Carey is honoring it. By doing so, she also is honoring her teammates, who were quick to congratulate her and tell her how proud they are of her. That is the spirit of sportsmanship, not these games the FIG and USAG were playing.
“I couldn’t be more proud of you!” Grace McCallum, one of the gymnasts likely to be on the outside looking in had Carey gotten a team spot, wrote in response. “You have worked so hard for this! I can’t wait to watch you shine!! You are AMAZING!!!”
The idea of reducing the five-person teams from the London and Rio Games to four people in Tokyo, and then using those newly freed up spots to create, in theory, more room for specialists and smaller countries, was flawed from the start. Rather than leveling the playing field, it allowed the U.S., Russian, Chinese and Japanese juggernauts to get stronger.
But COVID only made the debacle worse.
In first place on both floor exercise and vault in the apparatus World Cup series, Carey mathematically locked up a nominative spot that goes to the top eligible gymnast in each event way back in the spring of 2020. But she, and most of the other gymnasts who will get these spots, are in limbo because the FIG didn’t announce until June 3 that it was going ahead with the one event remaining in the eight-meet series when COVID hit.
“I’m wondering what is going on with the Doha World Cup ?” Eleftherios Petrounias, the Greek gymnast who won gold on still rings in Rio, said in a June 2 Twitter post. “Can anybody explain or answer what's going on with this weird situation ?”
And because the FIG is awarding these “plus one” spots in the order the events were to have occurred – apparatus World Cup first, followed by the all-around World Cup (which was scrapped and awarded by world championships finishes) and continental championships – rather than in the order they actually did, the FIG considers the United States to have qualified for the maximum two extra spots allowed. Which meant if Carey gave up her individual spot for a place on the U.S. team, the American women could only send five women to Tokyo instead of six.
USA Gymnastics could have told Carey that this was the bargain she had made back in 2018, trading her chance to win gold with the U.S. team for the security of an Olympic spot. It would have been fairer to the other athletes, who were left to wonder if they were competing for one of four spots or five, and it would have been fairer to Carey, who instead was put on the spot with the Olympic trials approaching.
“We live in world of athlete-centeredness, and the athletes have the choice,” national team coordinator Tom Forster said after the national championships. “So it will be up to her (to choose) if she’s in that position.”
Elite athletes are expected to deliver under pressure. Ultimately, Carey did just that.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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